A Mystery Board Meeting Bulks Up RIOC’s Profound Secrecy

A Mystery Board Meeting Bulks Up RIOC’s Profound Secrecy

There are laws on the books encouraging transparency, but with a mystery board meeting, RIOC’s profound commitment to secrecy overthrows them all. Denial of information thickened after Governor Kathy Hochul took office, a feat few thought possible. How the state runs the local operation, paid for almost completely by Roosevelt Islanders, persists shrouded in unknowns.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

At the time of the mysterious board meeting announcement, the New York State Shelton J. Haynes Parking Area choked up with giant, gas guzzling black cars. © David Stone/The Roosevelt Island Daily News.

The Mystery Board Meeting

Set for Thursday, April 14th, at 5:30 p.m. on Zoom, the mysterious board meeting sports a single agenda item:

Chair’s Motion for Executive Session

  1. Discussion of the medical, financial, credit or employment history of a particular person or corporation, or matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person or corporation..

This word salad is a roundhouse collection of all the ways RIOC may avoid making their business public. Executive Session means the screen goes black until they’re done with their backroom maneuvers.

The fact that the board is holding a meeting at all implies action involving management changes. It’s one of the few things requiring majority votes from the board.

And the “Chair,” for the record, is not a Roosevelt Islander or anyone who normally attends meetings. RuthAnne Visnauskas, Commissioner of Homes and Community Renewal, with oversight over RIOC, usually sends a subordinate, and may well do so, this time.

So, what’s up?

It really is a mystery with RIOC operations sealed up tight since the end of last year. Someone or some group not well plugged in with the community took over communications, and a recent newsletter gave not a hint about who’s in charge.

After a couple of cancellations, the last board meeting was held without key personnel in attendance. It is the only board meeting so far in 2022, which means operations are frozen or the corporation is finding ways of circumventing open meetings requirements.

Moreover, the only time President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes popped out of his Blackwell House bunker, he made a fool of himself trashing the MTA over OMNY mistakes with the Tram. Confronted, he retreated and has remained invisible.

But speculation about his dismissal amid an eruption of public scandals is premature. His gas guzzler was parked among others in his namesake parking area yesterday.

Similarly, widely rumored as separated from RIOC, Director of Communications and Community Affairs Erica Spencer-EL lingers on the corporation’s website as primary media contact. And her LinkedIn page shows her as continuing in that position. She and Haynes have been rumored in a power-sharing struggle for months.

A larger question is why the state agency, backed by Hochul’s Albany handlers, needs such profound secrecy. What are they so committed to hiding?

How the Mystery Board Meeting Violates State Law

The Freedom of Information Law, effective January 1, 1978, reaffirms your right to know how your government operates. It provides rights of access to records reflective of governmental decisions and policies that affect the lives of every New Yorker.

Your Right to Know, New York State Committee on Open Government

None of this appealed to Governor Andrew Cuomo and less so with Hochul. In securing certain demographic votes and propping up political patronage, the governor who promised transparency went in the opposite direction with RIOC.

…And defies good government policies

Transparency in government is important because it allows citizens to hold their government accountable. Without transparency, it can be difficult to track what the government is doing and how they are spending taxpayer money. Transparency also allows for public input on government decisions, which can help ensure that the best interests of the people are being represented.

There are many ways to increase transparency in government, such as requiring open meetings, publishing expenses and salaries and providing easy access to public records. Increasing transparency can help create a more efficient and effective government that is better able to serve the needs of its citizens.

Secrecy also prevents us from knowing why Hochul and a host of both elected and public officials stand by while RIOC hides its most basic operations.

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